“It's the mystery that endures, not the explanation. A good mystery can last forever.” —Neil Gaiman
Disappearances are often gradual and occur as quietly as a kitten’s sneaky footsteps. With a recording industry this large, and saturation growing by the day, an artist’s music and presence could vanish from social media, blogs, discussions, and eventually, our consciousness, and it's unlikely we'd even notice. Local police departments don't put faces on milk cartons when rising stars return to the earth.
One day, for no reason, you’ll think of an artist you once discovered, with enough talent to awake the entire music business. You’ll ask yourself, what happened? Where did they go? What are they doing now?
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself these questions and searching for answers. Some artists happened to be doing great, some less visible, but still rapping, producing, and creating. Others jumped into different practices, in pursuit of new dreams and aspirations. “Made it” or not, life does go on.
I’m mostly fascinated by creatives who end up near the middle of "making it"; who are gifted and able to achieve notoriety in their respective artistic fields, but instead of breaking through the ceiling of mainstream celebrity and entering the spotlight, they remain in the shadows. Success is different for every artist. Becoming the biggest pop star in the cosmos isn’t everyone’s aim. Still, there are unique cases, like Whoarei, a GRAMMY-award winning producer from Sacramento, California.
“At times funky, at times soulful, and doesn’t sound like the work of an amateur,” is how the recently resurrected Potholes In My Blog summarized Thoughts Blunted, Whoarei’s 2012 debut mixtape. Mostly compromised of instrumentals warm as a belly full of wine, Thoughts Blunted is a beat tape for all intents and purposes, but a sprinkle of rap features adds a sharper edge to the soft exhibition of sunlit sample-driven production.
Fellow Sacramento native Chuuwee puts “Purple Leafs” in a suplex, while Joel and Xuice Hades seamlessly walk over the Tim Maia’s “Eu Amo Você” sample on “OMG.” These moments are efficacious in showcasing the functioning coexistence between Whoarei’s beats and his guest rappers’ rhymes.
It wasn’t until I saw his name appear in the production credits of Kendrick Lamar’s GRAMMY-award winning masterpiece, 2015's To Pimp A Butterfly, that I began imaging a future where major label albums could be filled with Whoarei placements.
Originally uploaded to SoundCloud in 2013 as a loosie that didn’t make the final cut of his enchanting beat tape Nothing, a sampled version of Whoarei’s “Loving You Ain’t Complicated” became the second half of Kendrick's “u,” arguably the most heartrending record in his moving discography.
The record's slow, emotion-invoking characteristics cause spines to tingle even without the soul-bearing confessions of Compton’s good kid. And that’s the magic of Whoarei—he possesses the ability to transfer bone-deep sensations with sound. Even with the outstanding super team of producers who provided Kendrick with his most innovative soundscapes to date, there’s no other singular moment on To Pimp A Butterfly short of Tupac’s revival that crawls across the skin quite like “Loving You Ain’t Complicated.”
An industry gold rush toward Whoarei should have followed, as it did for Lex Luger after Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard In The Paint” or Tay Keith after BlocBoy JB’s Drake-assisted “Look Alive.” Instead of the beatsmith who was redefining the sound of mainstream radio, Whoarei was the poster child producer for emotive deep-cuts. Think 9th Wonder rather than Metro Boomin; Nineteen85 instead of Zaytoven.
Sadly, the future I envisioned for Whoarei did not come to fruition, a reminder I am served every time I press play on Mick Jenkins' 2018 sophomore album, Pieces of a Man. For those familiar with Whoarei and Knxwledge’s rework of Jenkins' “Fresh Water,” it isn't hard to imagine the Northern Californian seamlessly fitting in somewhere between the Black Milk-produced “Gwendolynn's Apprehension” and Kaytranada-helmed “Padded Locks.”
A similar feeling occurs while revisiting the radiant loops found across Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs. Whoarei would have made a meal out of the soundscapes present on Earl's latest opus. The meditative world Maxo developed for his Def Jam debut, LIL BIG MAN, is another canvas where the mystery producer's contemplative and wrenching production would have been a match. Beyond hip-hop acts, Sonder frontman Brent Faiyaz instantly comes to mind given Whoarei’s remix of D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie,” and SZA would sound perfect over the spacey synths that make up “She Lives In My Dreams (LSD).”
This isn’t a case of an artist being overlooked for going against the tide, but rather an artist who chose to be the wave.
Whoarei doesn’t do interviews; to my knowledge, there are no images online that reveal anything about the person behind the talent. In various posts on Tumblr—his most active social media platform—he places emphasis on allowing the music to speak for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if creating, sharing, and inspiring is all the satisfaction he seeks from releasing music.
As the Sun Ra sample states on “Mind Body & Jazz”:
“Music is what's supposed to keep people inspired and keep them seeing this invisible beauty of the mind and spirit. That's what music is for.”
In 2017, after a four-year breather, Whoarei released his first project through Timetable Records, titled Vibrations. On both SoundCloud and Bandcamp, he writes, “Soul samples chopped to say things they didn’t originally say. Secret messages and whispers hidden behind heavy bass lines and pretty chords.” His words are an accurate synopsis of the experience that awaits listeners over the course of 18 songs. Each second of Vibrations is filled with the intent to communicate love—honest, affectionate love. It is one of the most calming, pure, sunflower bright projects I’ve heard in recent memory.
Vibrations is why Whoarei is an artist I won’t soon forget. It’s music that provokes a sense of peace, and wanting to share that peace with the world is why I still forsee breakout potential. To hear his work is to wonder how someone who is able to make art this serene can endure in the shadows. As a fan, it’s like waiting for the world to see what you see—to hear what you hear—but knowing it’s never that simple.
After seven years, I'm still wondering when, how, and if the wait will ever end. Life goes on.
By Yoh, aka, Whoareyoh aka @Yoh31